THE BITE: I got some flack for last week’s Bite. People were asking why there wasn’t a dish reviewed from one of Sheepshead Bay’s many fine restaurants. I was quizzed, “What was this odd request for bread?” One person very pointedly asked me, “Aren’t you the food guy? You should know where to find sliced bread in the neighborhood, not ask such dumb questions from the readers.”
Okay – you caught me. I had no dish to review last week. I was down with a bad case of food poisoning. No, it didn’t come from one of the fine restaurants or food carts of the bay. It came from one of the markets that sell fresh fish. I can’t tell you which one, as I didn’t make the purchase.
My daughter, a college sophomore, has been on a health kick since she came home on summer break. She’s taken over a lot of the cooking duties as she wants to create “healthy” dishes as opposed to the “crap” I usually cook – her words, not mine. So, she’s been cooking a great deal of skinless chicken breasts. While skinless chicken breasts may be healthy, they’re also boring as hell. So last week I insisted that we shake things up a bit and cook some fish for dinner. They brought home three thick salmon steaks. My mistake.
While my daughter has taken on much of the cooking, she still doesn’t know everything as I was called to evaluate if the fish was cooked. I looked down on the George Foreman Grill, and asked, “What type of fish is that? I’ve never seen salmon that color before.” I was assured it was indeed salmon, but I still had my doubts.
“That smells really fishy,” I said. “I’m not sure that fish is good.”
My wife chimed in with “Salmon always smells fishy when it cooks. It’s fine.”
I had my doubts, but I acquiesced to the collective wisdom of the ladies of the house. But, even though it appeared done, I did suggest that they cook the fish another five minutes.
When dinner was served, we each took one salmon steak. I placed mine on my plate and smelled it. It still smelled fishy, but the overwhelming stench was gone. I squirted lemon juice on the fish and took a bite. It was a bit overcooked, which was part of my plan. If this fish was bad, I wanted to make sure that all possible germs, bacteria and parasites were annihilated by the heat. I took a bite. It tasted fine, my wife and daughter assured me it was indeed fine and I proceeded to eat about half the salmon steak.
About an hour later that fish revisited me. It made multiple appearances that night and continued to plague me for eight days. It’s been a horrible experience.
Do yourself a favor, never look up an illness on the internet. I knew bad fish could cause gastrointestinal issues, but I didn’t know that it could kill you. One page suggested that if I started having headaches or muscle spams I should seek immediate treatment as this was signs of a life threatening condition (Whatever happened to “potentially” life threatening?). It was not reassuring.
So, as my daughter accused me of “making myself sick,” as she and my wife escaped unscathed, I suffered through one of the best quick weight loss diets on the planet.
But, all is not lost! I will gladly suffer if I can be of service to the readers of Sheepshead Bites. Here’s a quick guide on how to choose fresh, unspoiled seafood from About.com:
- Look for bright, clear eyes. The eyes are the window to a truly fresh fish, for they fade quickly into gray dullness. Dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, but they are past their prime.
- Next, look at the fish. Does it shine? Does it look metallic and clean? Or has it dulled or has discolored patches on it? If so, it is marginal.
- Smell it. A fresh fish should smell like clean water, or a touch briny or even like cucumbers. Under no circumstances should you buy a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won’t improve it.
- Look at the gills. They should be a rich red. If the fish is old, they will turn the color of faded brick.
- Look for vibrant flesh. All fish fade as they age. If the fillet still has skin, that skin should look as pristine as the skin on an equally good whole fish – shiny and metallic.
- Smell it. The smell test is especially important with fillets. They should have no pungent aromas.
- Is there liquid on the meat? If so, that liquid should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot.
- If the fishmonger lets you, press the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.
Don’t be afraid of fresh fish folks. If it has been properly handled, it’s some of the best eating on the planet.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, and sometimes if it isn’t, we’ll take a bite.